Dark Secrets Of An Air Traffic Controller

By Aaron Love 10 months ago

They Don't Actually Work At Airports

Image Source: Reddit
When you think about air traffic controllers, the first thing that probably comes to your mind is the tall glass towers you spot at each airport, and whilst some of them work there, the majority actually work further away from the airport! In fact, apparently there are three separate locations you'll find some air traffic controllers: the glass tower, then in a place known as a TRACON facility, where they watch the planes as they take off and land. The final location is known as a route center and then ensure the plane remains, as the name suggests, on route.

It's Very Stressful

Image Source: airwaysmag.com
Unsurprisingly, working as an air traffic controller can be incredibly stressful, how would you feel if thousands and thousands of people's lives were at risk and YOU were responsible for them! That's basically what an air traffic controller has to go through every day! In fact, most of them work 365 days a year so there is never really any time for them to chill out or relax as they always have to be on guard! I guess it would be a very exciting job at times, but I for one wouldn't be too confident!

You Can't Be Too Old Or Too Young

Image Source: Mental Floss
As you might expect, becoming an air traffic controller isn't particularly the easiest career path someone can take. In order to be trusted at an airport you have to have been trained properly at either a military school, or the official FAA Air Traffic Control Academy. That's right, there is a school dedicated to producing the next generation of controllers! However, applicants can only apply to the school and jobs when they're below 30 years of age and they have to retire by 56 in order to avoid the chance of any mishaps.

They Don't Like Accents

Image Source: Reddit
Okay, so they probably wouldn't have a problem with Mr McConaughey, but most air traffic controllers dislike having to communicate with people where English isn't their first language, or they have a strong accent that can complicate their understanding of what they're saying. Typically, it seems as though its the controller that will have to change their routine in order to avoid any possible complications from communicating with someone with a strong accent. They might have to talk to them a little slower to keep the problems at bay!

They're Safe From Robots

Image Source: Reddit
A lot of people's jobs have become put at risk in recent years as a result of a number of new technology becoming available that can do the work better than any (or most) humans can. Companies have been doing so in order to save themselves money mostly! However, air traffic controllers shouldn't have to worry about this as the fact so many people's lives are at risk means there will always be a need for people to make sure that the aircraft systems are always working. I definitely prefer that to robots!

They Speak Their Own Language

Image Source: Reddit
Okay, so there isn't a certified language dedicated solely to air traffic controllers, and they are legally obliged to speak English at all times on the job. However, in order to make things easier for them they use some different lingo in order to communicate with one another as well as pilots. You'll already know about the phonetic alphabet they use, it's usually associated as being used within the military instead! For example, they'll say Alpha instead of the letter A and so on! They are provided with a manual at the start of their job that gives them all the special phrases.

They Can Get Very Bored

Image Source: Reddit
Although the job can obviously give quite the thrill, especially during the busy periods, it doesn't mean it's always full throttle in the life of an air traffic controller. That doesn't mean that the job gets any easier for them however! Obviously, on certain days throughout the year and in the late hours of night there can be less work for them to do. This can become extremely tedious, but it doesn't mean that they can slack off! It's probably even harder to stay on task when there's long periods between your work!

They Work Too Much

Image Source: Flying Mag
As we've already discussed, working as an air traffic controller is pretty much a job they have to work long hours 7 days a week. Although it can be exciting for some there's no doubt that they probably feel overworked and therefore exhausted throughout the shifts. In fact, here in the US, they plan to employ more than 1000 more air traffic controllers within the next few years! This is as a result of a number of workers gaining heart problems, which has been put down to being a result of stress and exhaustion!

They Have Limited Communicated With The Marshalls

Image Source: Reddit
Although a lot of people tend to get air traffic controllers mixed up with the little people down on the runway waving their flags, they actually have very different jobs; they hardly speak to one another! The traffic controllers, as we've already mentioned, keep the aircrafts safe whilst they're in the air. The guys on the ground are actually just following instructions given to them in order to direct pilots as to where to park their aircraft, they use a whole range of gestures using their flags or paddles!

They See UFO'S!

Image Source: Reddit
You might not believe in aliens yourself, but there are a whole range of air traffic controllers who claim to have seen a UFO on their radars. It should be mentioned that the radars are actually able to pick up some bird groups so not EVERYTHING is an aircraft (or spacecraft!). You might become less believing of this too, when you find out that the majority of 'UFO sightings' actually occur later in to the night. What do you think? Are they actually seeing aliens or are they just absolutely exhausted?


Image Source: Reddit
I thought there had to be something that kept the air traffic controllers happy in their near 24/7, 365 days a year job, and it turns out it might be the fact they get paid absolute boatloads! As of 2016 in fact, air traffic controllers in the US were working for nearly $150,000 every year! Not only this, but because they technically count as a federal employee they actually get all those additional benefits too! That means a great pension, covered (ish) insurance packages and good holiday allowances.

They're Very Proud Of Their Work

Image Source: Reddit
Although there is no doubt that air traffic controllers 100% feel the pressure of their job, knowing one mistake could cause deaths, means that they are always extremely focused on their job. In order to be able to do so, they have to enjoy their job and for the most part, they tend to do just that. Not only do they enjoy their job, but they are actually very proud of their work, and I suppose their right to feel that way. Let's be honest, when we're going on our holidays, an air traffic controller making a mistake isn't something we usually worry about.

They Have To Have Perfect Eyesight

Image Source: Reddit
It probably comes as no surprise to know that all air traffic controllers have to have perfect eyesight in order to complete their job to the best ability. So yes, unfortunately, if you're reading this with aspirations of going in to air traffic controlling (is that how you'd say it?) and you wear glasses then you have no chance! They aren't always just looking at screens directly in front of them but they also look out the huge windows of the glass towers in order to use what's actually in front of them to help!

They Can't Predict Everything

Image Source: Reddit
Unfortunately, in some circumstances, disasters can happen and although its the air traffic controllers job to protect people, things can happen that they can do absolutely nothing to stop! For example, an air traffic controller will be able to mitigate for bad weather (mostly) as long as it hasn't come out of absolutely nowhere. But, how are they supposed to account for things like engine failure, loss of communication (on their side or the aircrafts) or in extreme circumstances like hijackings!

They Have Little Breaks Throughout The Day

Image Source: CNN
I suppose when you know they're working such long and exhausting shifts, it should come as no surprise that the air traffic controllers are given the opportunity to have some little breaks scattered throughout. In fact, to keep their minds on task at all times, they are made to take their breaks around every hour and half, this is done in an attempt to try and lower any risk or chance they might make some form of mistake. They have a chance to just relax or they might want to grab a little bite to eat.

You Only Have A Small Chance Of Getting The Job

Image Source: Reddit
As I mentioned before in order to get the chance to work as an air traffic controller, you have to have trained for long periods of time at specific schools. And the worst part is that even if you pass all the tests and complete all of the exams you have to take, it STILL doesn't mean you are guaranteed to get a job, no matter how hard you try! It turns out that you might be waiting following the beginning of you application for (possibly) multiple years! In fact, the applications are only usually open for around a week every year!

They Aren't Allowed To Swear

Image Source: Reddit
You might think that working in a job revolving around air traffic can be very stressful, and with stress can come random outbursts of anger. We've all been guilty of swearing at points when we know we shouldn't but an air traffic controller might get into some trouble if they were to do the same. In fact, air traffic controllers are even at risk of suffering from a loss of their licence if they are heard to swear over the radios. I don't think I'd want to be having to worry about keeping my mouth shut in scary situations.

They Don't Like Being Blamed For Delays

Image Source: Reader's Digest
If you've ever been sat on a plane and been forced to sit through some tedious and lengthy delays, you might have heard them blame some issues with air traffic control for keeping you grounded instead of getting away tour holiday destination. The reality however, is that the controllers are actually (mostly) never at fault for any of these problems. The pilots won't be calling them bad things to their faces or they might get in trouble.

They Have To Witness Some Terrible Things

Image Source: Reddit
We've all heard of some horrifying incidents involving aircrafts and unfortunately, air traffic controllers tend to have a front row seat to these events that no one wants to see happen. Think about it, behind each of the engine failures, planes going missing and hijackings there are always some controllers that have to live with what they've heard or seen during the incident. Just imagine what was going through the minds of the 9/11 hijacking controllers!

They Might Take Their Anger Out (Off Radio)

Image Source: Reddit
As I mentioned before, if an air traffic controller is on the radio to pilots then they have to avoid swearing or the run the risk of losing their job. However, some of them have revealed the information that when they are off the radio's they let the pilots have it. Obviously, the pilots can't hear them, but its a good way for the controllers to let a little anger out without getting in to any trouble. I wonder what it is they shout out in order to release some anger? And have they ever accidentally said it to the pilots?

The Used To Have To Use Maps

Image Source: Reddit
Although the job of an air traffic controller isn't easy at all, it turns out that it was even harder in the past! Some former air traffic controllers have come out with the information that back before technology was as advanced as it is today, they didn't have the use of radars in order to communicate with or follow aircraft after they had travelled a certain distance away from the airport. Instead, they would have to calculate the distance travelled using an aviation map to see how far they had moved!

They Don't Get To See Their Family Much

Image Source: Reddit
Although I'm sure the families of air traffic controllers live pretty comfortably with their massive income coming in, they would probably prefer if that they could spend more at time home with their family than at the airport (or elsewhere) working such long shifts. I suppose they have to work hard to bring home the money, but no one wants to be away from our wife/husband and kids for ling periods of time (well most of us anyway!). Your kids would be able to tell their friends their parent had a cool job though!

They Support Police Aircraft Too

Image Source: Reddit
You probably don't realise that every single vehicle that flies in to the air has to give forward communication to air traffic controllers in order to avoid any potentially unfortunate collisions are accidents taking place. This also means that police helicopters and military helicopters have to give some forewarning that they're going to take off. So air traffic controllers actually have quite a big part in ensuring that these police helicopters can efficiently get in to the sky to capture the criminals roaming out there.

It's Really Loud For Them

Image Source: Reddit
Unsurprisingly, whilst working at the airport, air traffic controllers have to get used to spending time around all types of aircraft, most of which can be quite deafening when you're within a couple of 100 metres of them! You might spot images of them wearing headphones in order to try and drown out the jet engines; this is quite important as: 1, they need to be able to hear all radio contact with pilots and 2, they have to look after their own body. The last thing you want to do is cause long-term damage at work.

They Help Look After The Runway

Image Source: USA Today
Although air traffic controllers have to remain focused on the aircraft coming in, departing and flying over the airport, they also have to remain vigilant regarding any issues they can spot outside them huge glass windows of the controller tower. They can then communicate these issues via radio to the workers on the ground around the runway. One common issue that they have to keep an eye on is any light bulbs that have gone out on the runway, these are essential in ensuring pilots can direct their landing!

If You Interrupt Them You Could Be In Trouble

Image Source: The New York Times
Air traffic controllers are working an incredibly important job and so they are often kept quite isolated in their towers in order to make sure they can't become distracted. One small loss of focus could be the cause of horrific issues in regards to the aircraft. So in order to protect them, there is actually a federal law that means you can't interfere with anyone around air traffic control. If you manage to sneak in to the tower, then you'll be running the risk of being prosecuted and potentially sent to prison!

They Don't Wear A Uniform

Image Source: Reddit
You might think that working in such a professional and important environment, and other people being banned from their workplace, air traffic controllers might wear some form of uniform in order to distinguish themselves from other people around the airport. But, apparently, they are actually able to wear any items of clothing they want (being reasonable). I suppose if you're spending hours and hours of your day sat staring at screens you'd want to be in the most comfortable clothing you can at all times!

They Can't Drink Alcohol

Image Source: Reddit
It probably comes as no surprise that air traffic controllers aren't allowed to drink alcohol whilst they're on shift, but they're actually banned , by law, from drinking in the eight hours before their shift. This is in order to avoid them being liable for any accidents that might happen, protecting them from being forced to take the blame for anything that happens. To be honest, you probably wouldn't want to drink at any time near your shift, imagine having so many lives under your guidance on a hangover!

No Distractions!

Image Source: Reddit
Just as alcohol is banned by law, so are a number of items that you might think air traffic controllers are allowed to have by their side throughout the day. Essentially, anything you can think of that might distract someone are banned from even entering the tower, never mind using them. For example, items and products like your phone (or any other non-work communication device), newspapers, magazines or radios are all not allowed within the tower. You'd get so bored wouldn't you?

Every Landing Is Scary

Image Source: Reddit
Although they'll get used to planes landing, probably quite quickly after they begin their job, it doesn't mean that air traffic controllers aren't terrified that something bad might happen upon landing. You might see images of them using binoculars to watch planes landing, but they're actually inspecting the plane in order to make sure all seems well. They might be trying to make sure the landing gear is safely and correctly down! I'm sure this gets even more terrifying when the weather is bad too!